Technologies of the Shadowed Galaxy, Part I

Energy Sources and Storage:

While lost colonies may rely on steam, wind, and muscle, and there are a few antique internal combustion engines and isotope-producing fission reactors about, humanities primary source of power is the Fusion Reactor. Unfortunately, a minimal fusion reactor weighs about eight tons and is the size of a large automobile, not counting the fuel reserve and secondary equipment.

Personal gear, including smaller vehicles, usually relies on rechargeable E-Cells of various sizes.

  • Hyper-Capacitor E-Cells can store a great deal of energy, and can both charge and discharge very quickly – but are potentially explosive if damaged and leak power as heat as long as they have any left at all. Larger cells normally have cooling fins or similar arrangements. Practical personal energy weapons and mag-launchers almost invariably rely on HC-E Cells for power.
  • Fuel E-Cells do not lose power, but they rely on external (or very limited internal) supplies of reactants and can still explode (albeit far less violently then a hypercapacitor cell) if damaged. Fuel E-Cells are commonly used when you want long-term, relatively low-powered, and very, VERY stable power source.
  • “Classical” Chemical Cells hold relatively modest amounts of power – but they are fully self-contained, extremely safe, and can be extremely small – and so are still common in personal electronics and similar applications.

Exotic power sources include Isotopic Batteries/Miniature Nuclear Reactors, Antimatter Reactors (these can be immensely powerful, but the only practical way to get antimatter is through the use of Idiotic Technologies or Aberrent Materials, and the so-called “Cascade Generators” (a generic term for a variety of Idiotic power-generators and Aberrent Materials devices which produce vast amounts of exotic energy, have bizarre effects on the surrounding area and anything they’re used to power, and tend to be violently unstable – although whether that’s an inherent problem is not known. Many experimenters have, however, reported “rippling flows of color” of some type, hence the name).

Force Fields and Inertial Dampers

These are basically the same technology; a projected field that, somehow, dissipates a certain amount of incoming energy, whether electromagnetic, kinetic, or more exotic. Unfortunately, all known force field generators only work for people with some level of active psychic ability, and even then there is a modest level of feedback against the operator. Such fields can only be created in simple geometric shapes, but the scale of the effect and the amount of energy directed against it is apparently near-irrelevant to the operator; a larger system can cover a larger area. Thus many cities have shield generators that they use to help moderate stormwinds, shade the area to reduce the temperature, shield them against radiation, and keep out bugs. Military vessels also usually mount shield generators and inertial dampers; while the additional protection is only a fraction of what their hulls offer, and they may only be able to cancel out a a little over one gravity of acceleration, in a battle every little bit helps. Personal shields are usually slightly stronger than area shields, but the only apparent reason for it is that imminent personal danger seems to help the operator maintain focus.

Propulsion:

Fusion Thrusters – whether using direct streams of fusion-temperature plasma for orbital thrust, superheated water vapor for takeoffs and landings, or air/plasma ramjets for long-range operation in atmosphere above the minimum ramjet speed – have been humanities go-to aerospace drive system for some centuries. Unfortunately, even the most efficient use of reaction mass – whether collected from the interstellar medium or carried along – makes for rather slow travel even over mere interplanetary distances.

Recent examinations of the “Inertial Damping” effect of Force Fields have revealed that it is possible to treat the field as a semi-perpetual slightly more than one gravity drive depending on how the operator is defining his or her reference frame. A ship using this approach could, in theory, approach C relatively closely – but once relativistic effects begin to affect the operators perceptions the effect seems likely to level off. Talented operators have been able to use the effect to allow quieter and cheaper takeoffs and landings however.

FTL Travel:

Rapid Interplanetary and Interstellar propulsion relies on FTL drives. Oddly enough, humanity has something of an embarrassment of riches here. There are three known types – but first up we have the Hyperspace and Subspace Drives.

The combination of rapidly-rotating metal rings, coils, magnetic fields, and casimir fields, was supposed to create a slight space-time distortion – a barely-observable ripple in space-time whose structure would help determine which of twenty competing partial solutions to the equations of relativity came closest to reality. The slight disturbance should have propagated outwards at the speed of light, dissipating it’s energy.

But there were previously unknown boundary conditions. Rather than dissipating, the energy built upon itself and developed an unexpected resonance mode with peaks high and low enough to breach those unexpected boundaries. Space twisted back upon itself and the orbital laboratory fell out of reality.

Minutes later – light-hours away, and some months older – it came back, reporting a visit to either a long-dead universe or the distant future and a rather frantic effort to recreate the event in hopes of getting back.

Humanity had found a way to generate those long-sought “wormholes” – even if they could only exist for nanoseconds and had only two possible destinations; hyperspace and subspace (or back again). While that minuscule duration, and extradimensional destination, sufficed to put an end to notions of using Wormholes for time travel, it was still FTL travel of a sort.

Subspace Drives can get a ship to another star in hours to days – but from the ships point of view it will have spent a great deal of time (sometimes many centuries) traversing the warped space-time and weird conditions of a poorly understood alien universe far gone in entropic decay. Ships using subspace drives disappear fairly often, perhaps simply due to age. Still, cryogenic-stasis equipped ships sometimes carry subspace backup drives, just in case. Subspace message drones are not uncommon, but it’s wise (if expensive) to send more than one if you want to be sure of your message getting through. Pseudovelocities of several thousand times C are not unheard of.

Hyperspace Drives can get a ship to another star in days to weeks, giving pseudovelocities of several hundred C. Even better, the time is usually shorter than that according to shipboard clocks. Unfortunately, Hyperspace is a very crowded place; and ships often return irradiated, or with part of the materials (or creatures) aboard rendered Aberrant. Hyperspace drives also often cause ships to vanish permanently, but using a Hyperspace Probe – a guide-drone that you send through first and then download a report from – makes it a good deal safer. Hyperspace seems to be a “young”, chaotic and turbulent.

Analysis suggests that Hyperspace is an energy source, somewhat anti-entropic, has a far larger Planck distance (and is thus “smaller” despite its rough correspondence to normal space) and has a slower timerate. Subspace is just the opposite. It’s an energy sink, has an immensely faster timerate, and has a smaller Planck distance.

The currently-preferred system is a second-generation development,

The space-distortion or “Warp Drive” is a variant on the Alcubierre Drive, taking advantage of the fact that the space-time continuum includes hyperspace and subspace interfaces – boundary conditions that were unknown until 2083. Metric distortions are “squeezed” between the two – both amplifying and stabilizing them. The resultant forces create the repulsive effect known as “dark energy” and allow the toroidal metric distortion of the Abcunierre Drive to be generated with a comparatively tiny amount of negative energy. This quantity can be provided by Casimir Fields (requiring a week or more and a lot of expensive mucking about) – but these days (much to the frustration of many scientists and engineers) the initial “dark spark” is usually provided by a ritualist using an informational manipulation, a half an hours chanting, and a pocketful of weird junk.

Ships using warp-drive travel essentially see themselves as sitting still in a private, zero-gravity, pocket dimension while the location of the warp-bubble changes with respect to the universe. Fortunately, the same interface constraint that makes the warp easy to generate prevents the trip from having timelike aspects; a ship using a warp drive will never be able to observe any time-distortion or time-travel effects. Secondarily the ships energy balance remains neutral along the way; excess particles and such are drained away into the lower (subspace) boundary and power to maintain the bubble can be drawn from the upper (hyperspace) boundary. Current warp drives require roughly two to six weeks of travel per light year, giving pseudovelocities of roughly eight to twenty-five times the velocity of light – relatively slow, but far more reliable than using hyper- or sub-space.

Despite the inevitable attempts, to date all attempts to employ a warp drive in subspace or hyperspace to obtain nigh-limitless speed have been more-or-less expensive failures. As a rule, nothing happens in the initial experiments, ever more speculative adjustments are made in attempts to make something happen, and strange side effects occur until either the experimenters give up, they stumble across a side effect that kills them, or they simply vanish. While that could mean that they succeeded and simply can’t find their way back, few investors see much of a real difference.

Computer Technologies

Computers, like Explosive-Projectile Firearms, Radio Equipment, Masonry, and Flint-Knapping before them, are mature technologies – and are quite powerful enough. While Aberrent Materials or Idiotic Technologies may allow even better computers, many people simply have a computer with a wireless interface, sensory display links, and input sensors implanted and have done with it. With the capacity of a twenty-first century mainframe, a petabyte or two of nanosecond access nonvolatile optical RAM, and an expert assistant program, that’s all the computer that they will ever need.

One reason why characters in the Shadowed Galaxy get so many skills is that they’re presumed to have enormous amounts of information at their fingertips. On the downside… even the very best computer is only a little better than the instructions that you give it. That’s why computers can provide a bonus on relative rolls, but can’t just magically solve your problems.

Artificial Intelligences do indeed exist – but so far it has not proven possible to design a stable, or near-stable, AI with the potential to exceed the designers intellectual abilities. While no physical or information-theory reason for that is yet apparent, it is believed to involve the informational substrate level.

Still, it IS possible to build human-level AI’s – and even very BRIGHT human level AI’s – but for the most part it is easier (and a LOT cheaper and faster) to just find and train a very bright kid. Thus most AI’s are experiments or some kind or another, although there are a few (often rather dim) mas-produced AI’s designed for use in extreme environments of one sort or another.

Basically… the various “singularity” predictions have not worked out. You can’t vastly augment human intelligence, transfer minds into computers, create “foglets”, or produce superintelligent AI’s.

Yes, you can have drones/robot pets/remotes/”familiars”, either as gadgets or through the usual rules.

Anti- and Artificial Gravity

There isn’t any. Sure, you can play tricks which produce gravity waves and such – but there is no handy way of generating simple gravitational forces. There are, however, computers, adjustable electromagnets, and ferro- and para-magnetic materials. Between computer controlled magnetic fields, fibers woven into shipboard clothing, and the careful doping of tools and materials aboard a ship, most ships have a reasonable simulation of gravity, and even a way to partially counteract the effects of acceleration. Sure, it may feel like you’re suddenly laying sideways in a hammock on a two-gravity planet – but that’s a lot better than being tossed into a wall at two gravities. This form of “artificial gravity” doesn’t work properly on liquids, gases, foodstuffs, and similar items, but it DOES allow clever people with the authority to manipulate the system to pull off some very exotic tricks.

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